BACK TO CUBA? EXPECT A CRAWL, NOT A RUSH
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
MIAMI -- The year was 1974 and the dapper, well-spoken Cuban ambassador to the United Nations, Ricardo Alarcon, would nod hello to me most days en route to work at the Legislative Palace in Panama City, Panama.
The event was the first-ever Security Council session outside of New York, held to discuss the transfer of Panama Canal control from the U.S. to Panama, and Alarcon was one of the "third world" stars at the event. I was too young and foolish even to think that 32 years later Alarcon could be a possible successor to Fidel Castro.
At the time, I was just happy that Cuban tv crews, celebrating the brief cordiality between us, usually slipped me one or two Cuban cigars each day in our cramped quarters in the press gallery loft.
Speculation this week falls on Castro's brother Raul's temporary assignment as "cacique-in-waiting," and Cuban exiles' realities or fantasies about a mad rush back to the island to re-liberate property and businesses after Castro's demise. History tells me that things are not always what they seem.
Although there is a pantheon of aging "comrades" from the early days of Castro's revolution, and the natural sentimentality favoring loyal brother Raul, no one who has followed Raul's career has noted any of the "personalismo" or charisma which characterized his brother. The revisionists of Cuban history who praise Raul's "calm assessment of economic and planning issues" are just trying to explain away an uninspired and un-dynamic party hack. Think about the Soviet "apparatchiks" who used to line up to review the troops in Red Square each May Day and you get the idea. Alarcon, having held numerous domestic and foreign party roles, would be the likely transition choice if Castro indeed cashes in his fatigues and spells el fin to his career. I suspect that while Fidel is regaling St. Peter with a five-hour speech on why he should be sent North instead of South for eternity, Alarcon will be instituting a post-Berlin Wall-style transition.
Americans don't understand that Canadian and European investors and social activists have had their claws and pocketbooks in Cuba for years. The agricultural conglomerates who once owned the sugar "centrals" and plantations, and the hotel chains, homeowners, car dealers, and casino operators who think that their pre-1959 properties will automatically revert back to them, could be in for a surprise. Both Communist and non-communist regimes have nationalized foreign-owned railroads, resorts, oil refineries, and farms over the years, and the chance of claims being honored legally a generation or two down the road are, well, expensive, and pragmatically dubious.
In the post-Soviet age, I envision American and European interests serving as a slow to moderate catalyst for a Czech- or East German-style reintegration into the community of world capital. Tourism in a broadened form, recovery of mineral resources including petrochemicals, and exploitation (not in the pejorative sense) of an educated techno-class of teachers, nurses, doctors, and even military advisors, along with agrarian reformers. could all create a better balance of trade for a post-Castro Cuba. But as I looked at the white hair, or bald heads, and ample bellies of the well-heeled crowd at La Rosa restaurant in Little Havana yesterday, I wondered how many 60- and 70-year-olds would immediately jump back into the politics of their post-Fidel homeland. I suspect a larger number of them will rather watch events unfold on CNN, and brag about has the this year's best season tickets to the Miami Dolphins games.
American Reporter Correspondent Mark Scheinbaum's thesis on "Cuban Foreign Policy in the English-Speaking Caribbean," is a past first-prize award-winner of the Florida Political Science Association. He is based in Florida.